For the sake of this discussion, let’s just say Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos both earn victories on Saturday night at UFC 160 in Las Vegas.
We all know this is MMA and anything can happen and don’t count your chickens and whatever. By no means am I dismissing the challenges Antonio (Bigfoot) Silva and Mark Hunt present to the champion and former champion respectively; all it takes is one punch to render what follows moot, especially in the heavyweight ranks.
Having said that, if Saturday goes according to Hoyle, and the champion and his chief rival both secure victories, UFC president Dana White has already gone on record as saying that Velasquez and dos Santos will share the cage for a third time in as many years.
On paper, it makes all kinds of sense.
They’ve split a pair of fights, a new UFC heavyweight champion emerging each time. Not only would a third meeting break the deadlock, but it would likely do solid business at the box office. Most championship fights in the heavyweight division end up doing solid sales, and with the right supporting cast, a third bout between Velasquez and dos Santos should -- theoretically -- surpass the 500,000 buys mark. (Their last meeting at UFC 155 did 590,000 buys.)
Call me a contrarian or ask me why I hate everything that is fun in this world, but I’m not really interested in a third fight between these two heavyweight stars; at least not yet.
Their first fight took place on November 12, 2011 as the first UFC bout to air on the FOX network. It lasted all of 64 seconds, with dos Santos dropping Velasquez with a heavy overhand right behind the ear before putting him away to claim the title.
At UFC 146, dos Santos defended the title with a dominant win over Frank Mir, and Velasquez bludgeoned Silva, setting up the rematch, which took place 13 months after their first meeting.
Three days before 2012 gave way to 2013, Velasquez battered dos Santos around the cage to reclaim the title. It was a 25-minute beatdown the likes of which I can’t remember seeing before in the heavyweight division. Though his pace slowed over the course of the fight, Velasquez was never in any danger, and dos Santos was never really in the fight.
They’re sharing the same card again this weekend, trading positions from UFC 146. Dos Santos is fighting in the co-main event, while Velasquez will be the last man to enter the Octagon, and the one walking to the cage with the championship belt in his possession.
If both are victorious, do we really need to run this one back for a third time in as many years?
While the heavyweight division is notoriously shallow – there just aren’t that many 230- to 265-pound fighters out there to choose from – it’s not as if dos Santos is the only option available to challenge for the title.
Brazilians Fabricio Werdum and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira will face off two weeks after UFC 160, and the winner of that contest could certainly challenge a victorious Velasquez for the title in the second half of the year.
Werdum has won back-to-back fights since returning to the UFC, and adding a victory over Nogueira to his resume should be enough to position him for a shot at the belt. He’ll be 6-1 since leaving the UFC, with his lone loss being a tepid affair with Alistair Overeem that some pundits – me included – believe he won. And if Nogueira is able to slow his roll, why not give the heavyweight legend a chance to win the title and get a measure of revenge on Velasquez, who knocked out the Brazilian icon at UFC 110.
Depending on where fighters like Overeem, Roy Nelson, and Travis Browne are lined up next and how they perform in those subsequent fights, you could potentially make a case for any of those three challenging for the title as well.
Obviously, Overeem is the biggest name of the bunch, and a man the UFC expected to be fighting for the title this weekend, but Silva scuttled those plans at UFC 156. That being said, a dominant victory in his next outing, which is rumoured to be taking place at UFC 164 in Milwaukee, could elevate “The Reem” right back into the mix.
Nelson has earned first-round knockout wins over Dave Herman, Matt Mitrione, and Cheick Kongo in his last three, and a fourth consecutive win for “Big Country” should earn the former Ultimate Fighter winner a championship opportunity. The UFC has seemed reticent to push the rotund Las Vegas resident for some reason, but at a certain point, you can’t argue with the results, and like it or not, Nelson has been delivering impressive performances as of late.
Browne is the wild card of the bunch; a tremendous athlete who has yet to break through to the upper echelon, but seems capable of doing so at any moment. If he were to defeat Nelson or Overeem later this summer, you could certainly make a case for elevating the Hawaiian heavyweight into a title bout.
A bout between Velasquez and any of those five fighters would be more appealing to me than a third fight with dos Santos in the span of three years.
These two seem destined to be the top heavyweights in the sport for the foreseeable future. As such, there is no reason to rush into a third bout between them so quickly.
In a division that traditionally lacks depth, why not capitalize on the opportunity to cycle a new contender or two into a championship bout while you can?
Velasquez and dos Santos will mostly likely cross paths again, and could conceivably face off numerous times in the next couple years. They will remain deadlocked at one win each until the day comes when they do meet for a third time, so why not hold onto that easily promoted bout until the time comes there are no other viable options?
While there is are no guarantees that these two titans will remain side-by-side at the top of the division for the next few years, the UFC has already displayed their readiness to make fights that come with an easy selling point, so regardless of outcomes and position, slotting these two against one another for a third time in the future won’t be difficult.
Which means there is no discernable reason to match them together for a third fight in three years right now, even if they do happen to come out victorious this Saturday night in Las Vegas.